New Delhi: At a time when sections of the international community are slamming Myanmar’s military for appropriating power in a coup, India’s Army chief Manoj Mukund Naravane on Friday acknowledged the role played by the military junta in helping curb insurgency in India’s northeast.

Drawing a direct link between economic growth and development on the one hand and security on the other, Naravane noted that there had been “encouraging improvement" in the internal security situation in India’s northeast. Mizoram, Tripura, Meghalaya and large parts of Assam were practically free from insurgency with level of violence significantly going down, he said at a seminar in New Delhi.

“While relentless operations by the security forces and proactive government policies have laid the foundation, favourable external environment with Myanmar and Bangladesh has struck at the roots of the insurgent organizations," Naravane said in a speech at a seminar jointly organized by the New Delhi United Services Institute think tank and the paramilitary Assam Rifles which oversees security in India’s northeast in conjunction with Indian army.

The reference was to Bangladesh and Myanmar having friendly ties with India as a result of which both had cooperated with New Delhi in its efforts to stamp out insurgency in its northeast. Bangladesh had handed over arrested Indian insurgents while Myanmar had taken part in coordinated operations with India along their common borders.

“A series of operations under Operation Sunrise with Myanmar Army has witnessed growing cooperation and synergy between the soldiers on ground with reasonable operational dividends," Naravane said referring to coordinated military operations by India and Myanmar to flush out insurgents using Myanmar as a base for anti India operations.

The comments by the Indian army chief underline the importance of Myanmar and the role played by their army in India’s security calculus.

They coincide with thousands of pro-democracy protestors gathering in Myanmar to demand the reversal of the 1 February coup that removed Aung San Suu Kyi from power. India had cultivated the Myanmar's military between the mid 1990s to 2011-12 when the country held its first polls after 1988.

The Biden administration has imposed sanctions on 10 current and retired top-ranking leaders in Myanmar's military following the coup. In a statement on Thursday, the Treasury Department announced it was freezing US based assets belonging to the sanctioned individuals. US president Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken in phone calls to Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and foreign minister S Jaishankar discussed the military rule in Myanmar.

“Recent developments in Myanmar were discussed during the telephone conversations between President Biden and Prime Minister Modi on 8 February and EAM (external affairs minister Jaishankar) and his US counterpart Secretary Blinken on 9 February," Indian foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said on Friday.

“India and the US have agreed to remain in contact and exchange assessments on the situation," he said.

“As regards our position on the developments, it has been clearly stated in our press statement of 1 February. We believe that the rule of law and the democratic process must be upheld. As immediate neighbours with close cultural and people-to-people ties as well as relations strengthened by exchanges in trade, economy, security and defence, we are closely monitoring developments in that country. We will remain engaged with all concerned on this issue," he added.

Jaishankar also discussed the situation in Myanmar with Australian foreign minister Marise Payne this week. India has so far refrained by calling the toppling of the Suu Kyi government as a coup though it has expressed concern over the anti-democracy moves in that country.

In his speech, Naravane said the improvement of the security situation had resulted in a “realigned counter insurgency strategy" in the northeast. Troops tied down by counter insurgency operations had been freed up and were assigned to the northern borders, he said.

Describing India’s northeast as “the Centre of Gravity for sub-regional connectivity" and consequently “a launch pad for Act East initiatives," Naravane said the region was however seen as “a laggard in terms of growth and development."

“Protracted insurgencies, legacy issues further accentuated after partition and inefficient integration with rest of India account for much of what the region faces today," he said.

Making a case for speeding up development given the relatively better security environment, Naravane said there was a need to speed up local and regional connectivity projects. These were “central to unleashing the potential of the North East and balancing the influence of China," he said.

Internally too, infrastructure development “has been marred by numerous challenges. Multiple agency involvement and varied source of funds coupled with environmental factors remain major stumbling block," the Army chief said.

“There is a need for an apex body to coordinate multi-agency efforts," he said.

An “umbrella organization" christened the North East Integrated Security Council that had been proposed to galvanise the strategy, efforts and resources amongst all stakeholders has been proposed."

“With Minister of State for Home as the Chairman at the apex level, the organisation seeks to galvanise the efforts of all stakeholders which includes the policymakers as well as the authorities responsible to execute these policies," he added.